How to Choose a Mentor

Published: Dec 02, 2010

Topics: Networking       Workplace Issues       

Don’t ask your boss to be your mentor.

It’s the convenient choice, if you’ve been thinking of getting a workplace big brother or sister. But Lois Zachary, author of The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You, advises against following your gut—and especially convenience—when making a choice of mentors.

Zachary’s book, (written with Lory Fischler ), takes a mathematical approach to finding a perfect fit (literally—she has an equation!), and also offers no-nonsense tips for navigating sticky situations, like when your mentoring partner prefers discussing her marriage over work issues.

We asked her our burning questions about finding, keeping, and closing a mentorship with grace—and here’s what she had to say.

On Finding a Mentor:

Zachary advises against sticking to obvious choices, suggesting instead that you make a list of all your contacts (and their contacts) and weigh the pros and cons of each. Of course, you’ll want to keep meeting people to facilitate this process—and when you do, put your best foot forward.

Just as with dating (which the mentoring process strangely resembles) “Use your network and make it work for you,” Zachary advises. “Reach out to people, but don’t assume you really know them—ask questions. You need to be likeable, enthusiastic, and make yourself interesting.”

On Starting Out on Good Foot:

Honesty is truly the best policy—and the sooner you can implement that policy, the better. “Communication can become muddled or insincere,” Zachary says, noting that without both parties fully present and engaged, mentoring is pretty much useless. “If I’m withholding and not honest or authentic, then I’m going through the motions--and the motions are not going through me.”

You know that pushy friend you have who you always smile and nod at, then vent to your other friend about? You want to avoid that kind of a relationship in a mentorship at all costs. Zachary’s key to working through differences: “Not posturing, but really aligning what you say, what you feel, and what you do.”

For more on mentoring, read the full interview with Lois Zachary

Cathryn Vandewater,